Rent Girl: By Michelle Tea, 239 pgs. By Sean Carswell

Jun 05, 2007

          Rent Girl is a memoir of Michelle Tea’s days as a prostitute. In a series of quick vignettes and longer stories, she writes about how she got into the industry, discusses the highs and lows, and finally emerges wiser from the whole experience. Her writing style is very direct. Her description of the events are vivid. She definitely has a poet’s way of telling a story without wasting words. It’s hard to read Rent Girl and not compare it to two other books written about punk rock women in the sex industry: I Was a Teenage Dominatrix by Shawna Kenney and Dirty Money by Ayn Imperato. All three books are excellent, but for different reasons. Kenney has an intelligent distance to her work. There are well-defined lines that she won’t cross, and she never once comes across as a victim. Imperato worked only as a phone sex operator, so she was removed from the immediate dangers of prostitution and the dominatrix business. This allows her to be more thoughtful and funny. The situations that Tea gets into are far dicier. There’s a real sense of danger to her life. She doesn’t write herself out to be a victim, but she gets into situations beyond her control. Tea doesn’t romanticize her prostitution, either, but she does cut out a lot of the day-to-day difficulties that I’d imagine go along with this line of work. As you may expect, men don’t come across well in this book. Very few of the characters in this book come across as someone you’d want to hang out with. I guess that’s just the nature of the subject matter. Accompanying Tea’s stories are some amazing illustrations by Laurenn McCubbin. Every page of the book is illustrated beautifully. At times, I found that I’d quit reading and just look at the illustrations and wonder how she could do so much with shades of black and red. It’s dazzling. Long after I was finished reading the stories, I kept going back to the illustrations. McCubbin has a talent for drawing faces. You could flip through this book and understand most of the story by just reading the facial expressions from page to page. Tea’s stories are interesting, but McCubbin’s illustrations make this book worth the hefty cover price ($24.95). –Sean (Last Gasp, 777 Florida St., SF, CA

Thankful Bits is supported and made possible, in part, by grants from the following organizations.
Any findings, opinions, or conclusions contained herein are not necessarily those of our grantors.